Gefilte Fish: The Weiss Family’s Viennese Fish

WHO ARE WE?

“Nino” Shaye Weiss

Born in 1971 on the road from Paris to Budapest, as his parents were trying to return to Hungary, where his mother was originally from. Once Nino graduated from high school in Vienna, he moved to Paris for twelve years where he studied art history and philosophy. While studying for his doctorate Nino worked as a cook, waiter, and bartender in a restaurant in Paris. His search for his Austro-Hungarian and Italian roots, took him on a seven-year detour to Bnei Brak, the ultra-orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, where he studied in a Yeshivah and Kollel. There, together with his wife and children, he was able to get to know and practice the Jewish Kashrut culinary laws and customs. Upon their return to Vienna, Nino founded and now manages JewishVienneseFood.com, a website/blog featuring recipes and stories about Vienna’s Jewish cuisine.

Michi Weiss

Michi was born and raised in Vienna. She graduated from ‘Die Angewandte’, the city’s University of Applied Arts and, after a couple of years as an independent artist and art teacher, she now works at a public school. Michi is also a passionate Feldenkrais practitioner. In the Weiss family’s kitchen, Michi is mainly responsible for baking the cakes and the many famous Viennese sweets. During the family’s stay in Bnei Brak Michi was the family’s main contact to the local kitchens and their balaboostas.

The children:

Shloimi

15½ years old, is active in the ‘HaShomer Hatzair’ and attends Vienna’s Jewish High School ‘Zwi Perez Chajes’. He’s always asked to taste test the family’s cooking endeavors as he has developed a very discerning palate. His own ventures into cooking are mostly limited to smoothies and excellent fried eggs, done sunny-side-up.

Nechami

12 years old, is the sabra of the family. She too attends ZPC, Vienna’s Jewish school. Nechami has recently also taken to the kitchen and now cooks all kinds of dishes in the kitchen all by herself, ‘No help needed here’! For her Bat Mitzvah, Nechami prepared a video of her baking a wonderful challah all by herself.

WHERE WERE THE PHOTOS TAKEN?

The Weiss family lives on Taborstrasse in Vienna’s city center, on the border of the traditional Jewish neighborhood in the 2nd district also known as “Mazzesinsel” (matzo island), named as a tribute to the many Jews who used to live here. Post-World War II, Vienna is marked by the annihilation of most of its Jewish community and with it the loss of its once vibrant intellectual, cultural and social life. To this day the Viennese are struggling to fully grasp the void created by this rupture of civilization. However, today there is once again a vibrant albeit small Jewish community in Vienna.

The Weiss kitchen is just big enough to fit all the photo equipment necessary to produce the pictures and videos for JewishVienneseFood.com with a lot of professional cooking equipment dangling from the walls.

Every Friday, on Erev Shabbos, the Weiss family kitchen is buzzing with activity for what has turned into a secular tradition and continuing much of Vienna’s past Jewish culinary traditions: Shabbos food for the culinary Jew. Due to popular demand, Nino now offers cooking and baking classes, as well as gourmet tours through the city of Vienna.

OUR FAMILY KITCHEN

Nino and Michi Weiss like to cook the recipes they collected from old books, interviews and the research they conducted when living in Bnei Brak. Most of these can be traced back to the Austro-Hungarian empire, which is closely tied to their family history.

Both Michi and Nino have learned to cook from their mothers and grandmothers, however, classic homemade poached gefilte fish patties were never on their menu. The proverbial ‘carp in the bathtub’ did exist, but was served differently: In Vienna the gefilte fish forcemeat was prepared as fried patties. A recipe like this can even be found in a cookbook Sigmund Freud offered his wife Martha in 1894. Freud no doubt enjoyed sweet poached gefilte fish patties at his mother’s traditional home, but if the founder of psychoanalysis ever had gefilte fish in his own home, it was probably in the assimilated Viennese and Praguian fried style.

OUR HOUSE RECIPE: GEFILTE FISH

When living in Israel in the late 2000s, the family was invited to many homes and sampled the traditional gefilte fish. It was during one of these visits, to the Bleibergs family home in Bnei Brak, that Michi asked for the marvelous gefilte fish recipe which originated in Galicia, a geographic region in south-east Poland that was once a crown land of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Since their time in Bnei Brak, the Weiss family has made it their habit to make fresh homemade gefilte fish and of course it will feature on their table in Rosh Hashana. “We also eat the fish head to symbolize the desire ‘for heads, not tails’ in the coming new year and we are especially fond of the cheeks that are delectable.

Before that, they admit, it was usually gefilte fish out of a jar which simply cannot be compared to the real thing. “Whereas homemade fish dumplings are light and flavorful, the commercial variety, even if it is labeled ‘Old Vienna’, is heavy and bland”, says Michi and Nino adds, “its presentation leaves much to be desired as well: grayish in color and suspended in jelly, it is like a horrible reminder of a dark shtetl past.”

INGREDIENTS

12-14 servings

The gefilte fish is made using 3 small-medium whole carps. Ask your fishmonger to grind up two fish and slice one into steaks. Be sure to get all the heads, tails, fins, bones, and trimmings!

For the fish forcemeat mixture:

2-3 Onions (14.1oz/ 400g), cut to ½-in slices

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, for frying 1 kaiser roll, challah or white bread (weighing 2.65oz/ 75grams) 1 medium carrot (1.76oz/ 50g), peeled 1½ pounds/ 700g skinless, boneless carp filets, ground (approx. 4 smallish filets) 3 eggs ½ cup (3.88oz/ 110g) sugar

2 Tbsp salt ½ tsp freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp meal For the gefilte fish cooking broth: 1-2 (½ pound/ 225g) onions, sliced 2 (¼ pound/ 110g) carrots, sliced 6 carp steaks, cleaned 3 carp carcasses (heads, tails, fins, and backbones cleaned of any blood) ¼ cup (1.94oz/55g) sugar

2 tsp salt ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Prepare the fish forcemeat mixture: heat the vegetable oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and fry until golden.

2. Soak the roll, challah or white bread in water, and then squeeze out the water as much as possible.

3. Place the ground fish fillets, bread and the carrot in a grinder or a food processor and mince. In total, the fish filets should have been ground twice.

4. Place the mixture in a bowl and add the eggs, sugar, salt, black pepper and matzo meal and mix well.

5. Taste the mixture for seasoning: place a teaspoonful amount of the forcemeat mixture in the Microwave set on high for 30 seconds. This will give you an idea of how the mixture will taste once cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.

6. Cover the mixture and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

7. Shape oblong patties or quenelles. If the mixture is too loose, add ½ tablespoon of matzo meal, mix well and let it rest again in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

8. Fill the steaks with the fish forcemeat mixture.

9. Prepare the cooking broth: in a large pot, arrange the onion slices in an even layer. Add the carrot slices, sugar, salt and pepper. Place the fish heads, tails, fins and backbones in an even layer and top with stuffed fish steaks, arranged in an even layer. Add water to cover and bring to a gentle simmer.

10. Carefully place the fish patties or quenelles on top in an even layer.

11. Carefully add boiling water right up to the level of the uppermost fish patties, cover and simmer for up to 2 hours for a traditional jelly texture, or 20- 30 minutes, until just cooked, for a more contemporary version. The internal temperature should be at least 160°F/71.1°C.

12. When the gefilte fish is cooked, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove it from the water. Cool for at least 20 minutes.

13. Arrange the gefilte fish in a deep oval platter and pour some of the broth over the fish, saving the rest in a bowl.

14. Place a carrot round on top of each gefilte fish patty and steak. Optional: place the fish head in the center.

15. Cover and chill the gefilte fish thoroughly before serving.

16. Serve with sweet beet horseradish relish and a sprig of parsley.

Edited by Ofer Vardi. Photography by Daniel Shaked (family portraits) & Nino Shaye Weiss (photography taken from his website JewishVienneseFood.com)